KALAMAZOO--A collaboration involving Western Michigan University and Michigan's four other research universities will create the first statewide university network in the country to provide a critical new tool for business growth and attraction.
The Michigan Corporate Relations Network--M-CRN--was announced Nov. 10 in Lansing. It will create partnerships that will connect state industry to critical university assets in a way that will help the Michigan economy grow and prosper.
Six of the 15 public universities in Michigan make up the network. In addition to WMU, they are Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan's campuses in Ann Arbor and Dearborn. The campuses were chosen because of the broad research and geographic footprint they represent. Collectively, they represent more than $1.8 billion of research expenditures, which in 2009, amounted to 98 percent of the academic research done in Michigan and 99 percent of all patent activity among Michigan universities. The schools enroll more than 160,000 students across the state.
"All of Michigan's research universities are actively engaged in economic development," says Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach who has been working on the M-CRN since its inception. "This new effort will help our research universities work more closely together and develop tools like a statewide database on faculty expertise that will ensure business requests for assistance are funneled to the researchers who are best equipped to assist them."
The M-CRN will use more than $1.8 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Strategic Fund Board. The overall program funding will exceed $3 million after realizing an industry match of more than $1 million.
"Michigan is one of the top states in the nation for research and development with more than $16 billion in industrial R&D and close to $2 billion in university research,'' notes MSF Board chairperson Michael Finney, president and CEO of the MEDC. "Companies like Google, Facebook and Dell were born on college campuses, and we want to keep helping our leading universities turn the latest developments into jobs."
At WMU, the M-CRN will be housed in the Haworth College of Business and will work collaboratively with the Small Business and Technology Development Center--SBTDC--which is also housed in the business college.
Six initial areas of focus for the M-CRN are:
• Establishment or enhancement of business engagement offices, giving businesses and economic development agencies "one-stop shops" to gain access to university research expertise and student talent. By supporting the formation of similar business interface offices at Michigan Tech, WMU and UM Dearborn, this six-school network will magnify the value and impact for businesses across the state.
• Launch of a Small-Company Innovation Program, which will help companies partner with universities for applied research and development of identified technologies. The SCIP will provide Michigan small businesses access to matching funds to engage the M-CRN partner universities on company-specific research projects.
• Creation of a Small-Company Internship Award program to encourage student job placements with innovative and dynamic company partners within Michigan and provide funding for students to work as summer interns or in cooperative positions with corporate partners on projects that are both beneficial to the company and academically relevant to the student
• Development of a business portal to provide the private sector with a single-point-of-access Web tool for searching faculty expertise across the M-CRN universities.
• Increased access to university library resources, reducing the cost barrier to library resources for small companies in Michigan and connecting companies to the Michigan Information Transfer Source program of the UM Library System.
Creation of an Instant Innovation Program that brings faculty experts from the universities together with Michigan companies to tackle significant business and research challenges identified by the companies in a daylong, facilitated brainstorming session.
"Academia's role in the economy is rapidly changing," says Daryl Weinert, M-CRN principal investigator and executive director of the University of Michigan's Business Engagement Center. "It's critical that we recognize businesses as clients and be responsive to their needs."